By Kenneth R. Timmerman
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published February 23, 2006
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked Congress last week for an extra $75 million to enhance radio and television broadcasting into Iran and to support pro-democracy forces there. This is welcome and long overdue.
The good news is that the Bush
administration has finally understood that talking about freedom is
not enough. The United States must devote serious assets to helping
pro-democracy forces inside Iran, if there is to be any hope of a
long-term resolution to the nuclear crisis with Iran.
The bad news is that, after all these
years, the administration still has no plan of how to do it.
State Department bureaucrats last
year torpedoed specific grant proposals (including one by the
Foundation for Democracy in Iran, which I represent), to help groups
inside Iran. They argued helping such groups would be seen by the
Tehran regime as a hostile act and would violate the 1981 Algiers
Accord that ended the 444-day hostage crisis. Mustn't make Tehran
Since then, of course, the showdown
over Iran's nuclear weapons programs has intensified, as has the
regime's repression of pro-democracy activists, unpaid miners and
striking bus drivers. According to an opposition Web site, Iran Press
News, political prisoners were told by their jailers last week "each
and every one of you will be put to death" if Iran's nuclear file is
taken to the United Nations Security Council.
Republican Sens. Sam Brownback of
Kansas and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania have proposed increasing
funding for pro-democracy groups in Iran to $10 million this year.
But until Miss Rice made her announcement Wednesday, the State
Department opposed the Iran Freedom Support Act.
In her testimony, Miss Rice said the
State Department now plans to seek $75 million in supplemental
funding for 2006 to support democracy in Iran. "That money would
enable us to increase our support for democracy and improve our radio
broadcasting, begin satellite television broadcasts, increase the
contacts between our peoples through expanded fellowships and
scholarships for Iranian students, and to bolster our public
diplomacy efforts," she said.
All this sounds encouraging, until
you realize the only part of this program with substance are existing
Persian language broadcasts by the Voice of America and by Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty. And these broadcasts are problematic.
While the Voice of America has
tremendous talent, and has made serious efforts over the last year to
expand its programming in Persian and make it more professional, its
charter does not allow it to actively subvert foreign governments.
And that is precisely what we need in Iran.
In addition, VOA is turning away from
radio programming to more expensive television broadcasts, which it
intends to "simulcast" over its old radio frequencies.
The problem here is Iran's poverty.
Despite fabulous oil revenues, the World Bank estimates Iran's per
capital income is around $2,000 per year. The audiences we need to
reach do not all have access to television. And periodically, the
regime conducts massive seizures of satellite dishes, which are
We need more radio, especially
shortwave, and programming geared to informing the Iranian people
just how corrupt and brutal are their leaders, and that teaches them
the mechanics of political organizing and non-violent protest.
In principle, Radio Free Europe/Radio
Liberty could do this. But its Persian service, Radio Farda
("tomorrow"), has become an open object of ridicule to Iranians.
Established in 1997, it became known as "Radio Khatami," because it
openly supported the "reformist" regime of the previous Iranian
president, Mohammad Khatami. More recently, it has become irrelevant,
playing Britney Spears and other nonentities in hopes of attracting a
younger audience, while splicing in just 10 minutes of political
programming each hour.
Miss Rice seems to grasp the problem.
As she testified to Congress last week, a team of State Department
officials was visiting Iranian-American broadcasters in Los Angeles
to assess which programs might be worthy of U.S. support.
We need to shut down Radio Farda,
help VOA produce quality radio programs in addition to TV talk shows,
and hand over more money to Iranian broadcasters in Los Angeles and
elsewhere who have their finger on the pulse of Iran's people.
The real question was avoided by the
State Department last year: What type programs should the U.S.
support inside Iran? And are we prepared for Tehran's angry response,
which could come in the form of a large number of small suicide
The pro-democracy groups are out
there. And they are champing at the bit. They know what to do and
can't wait to get started.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is president
of Middle East Data Project, Inc. and author of "Countdown to Crisis:
The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran."
Copyright © 2006 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Kenneth R. Timmerman
President, Middle East Data Project, Inc.
Author: Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran
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Kenneth R. Timmerman is author of "Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran," Crown Forum.
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